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Ernesto Valverde know Barca must monitor ageing Andres Iniesta's fitness

Ernesto Valverde knows nothing ever comes easy in a Catalan derby.
Ernesto Valverde knows derbies are never easy, especially when they come in a cup competition.

BARCELONA -- Ernesto Valverde seems resigned to the fact Andres Iniesta will have to miss the occasional game in order to avoid picking up any long-term injuries.

Iniesta, 33, was an unused substitute during Sunday's comeback win against Real Sociedad -- Barcelona's first league win at Anoeta since 2007 -- and the club confirmed on Monday that the midfielder is suffering from a minor calf problem.

In total, Iniesta has made 21 appearances this campaign but he has increasingly suffered minor muscular injuries during the last two seasons.

Valverde has been forced to leave him out of six games this season, not including the decision not to risk him against La Real at the weekend, due to three different niggling injuries.

"I would like everyone to be fit and for Andres not to have small problems, but it is what it is," Valverde said in a news conference on the eve of the Copa del Rey quarterfinal first leg against city rivals Espanyol.

"[Iniesta] has not missed many games, but he's a player we have to take care of. He takes care of himself and these little problems, like this latest one, aren't too much of a problem for his form.

"But he knows how to look after himself and what we try to do is avoid any tears which would keep him out for months."

Iniesta isn't the only player set to miss Wednesday's derby at Estadi Cornella-El Prat, with Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Paco Alcacer and Samuel Umtiti all missing with various knocks.

In the case of Dembele, who had just returned from a four-month layoff, the France forward will be out for another month after injuring his hamstring during the win against Real Sociedad.

Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele
Summer signing Ousmane Dembele is set for another month out with his latest injury.

"The initial idea was to introduce him slowly and now that will have to be the same idea when he's back," Valverde lamented after losing the €145 million summer signing for a second time this season.

"These things can happen when you're coming back from a long-term injury. It was a serious injury. This time it's another smaller, different problem, but it's not far from the previous injury.

"We're not going to make a big deal of it. It's just another part of the job, another difficulty and something to solve -- hopefully, it ends up being an anecdote."

In better news, Valverde did reveal that Umtiti is making good progress and could be back "soon," although he will not be available for the short trip across Barcelona to Espanyol.

There will be no debut for new signing Yerry Mina, either. Valverde said that the defender's registration, following his signing from Palmeiras last week, has still not been finalised.

Valverde also trotted out the old cliche that "form goes out the window" when Barca meet Espanyol in the first of three Catalan derbies in 19 days on Wednesday (they meet in the return leg at Camp Nou next Thursday and in the league at Espanyol on Feb. 4).

"Espanyol are in good form right now, the statistics are a testament to that," Valverde warned.

"They're having one of their best spells of the season. They're unbeaten in four in the league and produced a great comeback in the last round of the cup. Then there's the fact it's a derby... so the distance in the league counts for nothing because you have to add in the emotional factor.

"We're away from home, too. A cup game's about not making mistakes because they can cost you dearly. We will have to be switched on if we want to reach the semifinal."

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.

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